Five Years Waiting: The Un-built Bridge

On a beautiful September day in 2001, the veil of innocence was torn away from the eyes of our nation. We were introduced to a form of murderous barbarism that has been the norm for centuries in other parts of the world.

I watched as my former New Jersey Governor, and later EPA Administrator Christine Whitman indulged in a flurry of fanatical finger pointing. What is wrong with our government? Doesn't anyone have the guts to say, "We screwed up." These scenes reminded me of the old cartoon character made famous in Bill Keane's syndicated cartoon The Family Circus. One of his great creations is a character called, "Not Me."

A cartoon panel will show a broken window, or some similar event. The father or mother will then be seen asking the assembled children who did it. While the angelic-looking kids are maintaining an aura or silence, a little character named "Not Me" can be seen off to the side smiling in a sly, knowing way.

Who in the hell do these politicians think is responsible for all of the devastating lung damage being experienced by thousands of 9/11 responders and civilian workers? Do they think it is the bad-luck fairy? Are they betting that everyone will die before they have to put their hand in their pocket? Do they think it is just a case of incredible bad luck that somehow thousands of people, who worked in the same place, at the same time, just happen to be having the same problems?

Give me a break. I have seen this governmental inability to accept responsibility before. I am, my friends, a veteran of the conflict that took place in a little country by the name of Vietnam. I remember the battle that many of my fellow veterans had (and still have) over the issue of Agent Orange.

I remember the denial dudes telling the whole world that Dioxin was just a harmless little chemical made up by the gang at Dow Chemical to kill a few weeds. My friends, I served on the fire department at a U.S. Air Force base in Vietnam where one of the Operational Ranch-Hand units was located. We were trained to deal with might happen. Thankfully nothing bad happened on my watch at our base.

However, I can recall the instructions given with regard to potential incidents at that end of the air base. If there was a fire in the Ranch Hand compound, we were to see that the area was evacuated and let the complex burn. Sound familiar? In the event of a crash involving one of the C-123 aircraft that sprayed that vile toxin, we were to attempt a rescue, if there was no fire.

We were told to avoid all contact with the sticky sludge that was in the barrels with the orange strips (Agent Orange). Those of us on the air base were safe. Sadly, how many of our forces in the field lived, ate, slept, and worked in areas which had been saturated by this terrible toxin. They were not so lucky.

As the years passed and formerly young and healthy men and women began to die, our brave government took the ostrich position, heads firmly ensconced in the sand. It took years of pounding in the courts of our nation to get any form of justice. All the while our government took the "Not Me" role in this unfolding drama. Countless people died while waiting for help.

Let us jump ahead to 1991. Have you ever heard of the "Gulf War Syndrome"? I know I have. Once again our noble government kept its head in the sand as evidence about the effects of toxic exposure in Kuwait tried to surface out of the government's secrecy bunker. Healthy people were suddenly sick. Brave warriors were suddenly reduced to weakened shadows of their former selves.

What did our government do? It practiced the age old problem-solving approach known as "deny, deny, deny". I am sick and tired of my government getting us into these situations and the pulling the old magicians trick of yanking the table cloth out from under the flower vase and place setting.

Hell these are the same people who started a war that is killing and crippling thousands. They are also the same people who never seem to find enough money for the Veteran's Administration. Damn it, someone is responsible. So too is someone responsible for the human wreckage left in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Is it any different in the case of September 11, 2001? If the finger-pointing festival of the past week is any indication, I think we are in for more of the same. Hell, there are Korean War veterans who are still fighting over the cancers they have suffered from the massive asbestos exposures which were common in the days before the hazards of that material were recognized.